Burnout is a hot topic these days. In almost every newsfeed, from Thrive Global to Medium to Huffington Post, articles on burnout prevention top the newsfeed, and for good reason. Burnout is the new anxious.
According to the World Health Organization, “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. The statistics speak for themselves.
“75% of workers have experienced burnout, with 40% saying they’ve experienced burnout specifically during the pandemic. (FlexJobs). Sixty-one percent of remote workers and 53% of on-site workers now find it more difficult to “unplug” from work during off-hours. (Indeed). 36% of employees said their organization isn’t doing anything to help with employee burnout”. (Eagle Hill Consulting)
No doubt concerning. Organizations and Leaders are highly aware that burnout is a growing problem. However, I have yet to see an organization prioritizing what I like to call a “Whole Person” approach to tackling burnout, an approach that includes a reevaluation of success. In Arthur Brook‘s new book, From Strength To Strength. he talks about the addictive qualities of success and achievement, and its correlation with overwork, burnout, and constant busyness.
I won’t sugar-coat it. The pursuit of success is addictive, intoxicating, and hard to stop. I lived what Brooks expertly explains as ‘success addiction’ and I suspect that I’m not alone. If you are a self-proclaimed high achiever and derive significant esteem from your career, then the chance of success addiction is high; an insatiable need that can lead to overwork and toxic busyness.
When I reflect on my corporate career, the honest truth is that no one expected anything of me that I didn’t expect 10X more of myself. The pressure I placed on myself to perform as a female executive was oppressive, severe, and constant. It was those same expectations, many of them “under the hood” buried deep in my subconscious, that led to my burnout, anxiety, and stress as an executive. Melody Wilding, Author of Trust Yourself, writes that “pushing yourself too far is a sure-fire path to exhaustion”. I only knew how to push and not pause. No one taught me the power of understanding how to meet my whole person needs.
Much is written about workplace accommodation and the desperate need to prioritize wellbeing as a strategic imperative. As a former CHRO, I don’t disagree. In fact, I’m insistent that organizations prioritize psychologically safe workplaces. However, the focus appears too heavily slanted toward changing policies, programs, and metrics rather than people’s “lived experiences”. Changes such as enhancing Employee Assistance Programs, increasing the number of vacation days, offering remote working options, measuring (and rewarding) employee engagement increases. Although well-intentioned and arguably necessary in a competitive talent economy, these solutions are incomplete.
If you truly want to make a serious dent on addressing stress and burnout in the workplace, one of the best strategies you can employ is to offer every new leader the privilege, opportunity, and leadership gift of understanding themselves, others, and the world around them. All too often, when we promote new senior leaders, we hire coaches to help leaders with things such as executive presence, communication skills, board relations, etc. Those are all fine and good. However, the true magic occurs when a leader is convinced of their inherent value as a person first, and as a leader second. When you are convinced of your value, upholding a professional boundary that honours your wellbeing becomes much easier to create and maintain.
When I speak about “whole person leadership”, I’m not simply referring to an assessment, such as an enneagram or a 360 review. I’m referring to a robust education on human behaviour. Specifically, unconscious thought patterns that dictate behaviour. I’m talking about mental habits, science behind peak performance, and understanding optimal needs, even as a busy executive. I’m talking about psychological agility and resilience. I’m talking about the embodiment of a transcendent style of leadership.
So, what can organizations do to promote whole person or transcendent leadership? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Start to incorporate human behaviour and neuroscience in your leadership development programs. Less skill-building and more behaviour building.
2. Hire an Executive Coach for newly promoted senior leaders whether they need one or not. If cost is a concern, then try a group coaching program that provides more value for the time. Coaches are not for people who need one; they are for leaders who want one.
3. Role model transcendent leadership. Purchase and read Fred Kofman’s book, The Meaning Revolution or Scott Barry’s Transcend. Both of these books articulate beautifully what it means to lead from a place of inner knowing and conviction.
4. Start to consider incentivizing leaders for “not working”. Sounds crazy? Not really. Demand that leaders don’t send emails on weekends and start building and creating a “success without sacrifice” culture. Not only is it possible; it’s essential if you want employees to enjoy a “lived experience” of wellbeing in the workplace.
Employees want the real deal, walk the talk, bold, and authentic, self-aware leadership.
Invest in THAT.